Critical Context

Rebellion in the Backlands is Brazil’s own Iliad, with soldiers and sertanejos replacing Greeks and Trojans. A monumental work of the early Brazilian Republic, Rebellion in the Backlands contributed to the rediscovery of Brazil’s colorful regions, particularly the Northeast, and to the creation of the sertanejo myth. Cunha thereby helped lay the groundwork for the modern flowering of the Brazilian novel, dominated by Nordestino writers. Cunha’s influence can be seen, for example, in such novels as Jorge Amado’s Terras do sem fim (1943; The Violent Land, 1945) and Gabriela, cravo e canela (1958; Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, 1962), with Gabriela as a modern embodiment of the sertanejo myth.

Indeed, the influence of Rebellion in the Backlands does not stop at Brazil’s borders. It inspired, for example, a fictional retelling of the Canudos story, La guerra del fin del mondo (1981; The War of the End of the World, 1984), by Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. More generally, Cunha and other nonfiction writers, particularly sociologists, have helped to define the subject matter of Latin American fiction and have influenced its tendency to incorporate sociology, local color, and other factual material. The bizarre nature of some Latin American fact (especially political fact), as depicted by Cunha and others, has also influenced fictional interest, by novelists such as Argentina’s Julio Cortázar and Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez, in the interplay of illusion and reality, fact and fantasy.